One Chord of Joy

Moments of music bring comfort and joy…

Great choral music contains chords I could live on for years. The buildup to them is always great, too, and you can’t really appreciate how wonderful the chords are when they burst forth without hearing what comes before.

I’ve had the opportunity to sing some new music this year, I am so grateful these modern, living composers are writing music with chords to live on – sounds that can cause a broken heart to soar.

(Heads-up: some of these YouTube videos may contain ads, sorry – there doesn’t seem to be any way for me to block them for you, so I wouldn’t click other than on the little “x” to close them, if I were you):

Here’s one the chorus that has graciously accepted me is doing – “A Christmas Blessing,” by Philip Stopford. The video has him conducting, in an Irish Cathedral with a much smaller choir, but you’ll still get it (the echoey-stone-pseudo-medieval church we usually perform in was unavailable, so we performed this time in a modern, brick church building that looked more like a 1970’s school or county office building – very exposed sound, not echoey – but we pulled it off).

Anyway, the big moment comes at about 1:25-1:26 on the word “joy;” there’s another at 2:00 on the word “always.” It is worth listening to the whole thing so you get the context and the run-ups to these moments. “Joy” and “Always” just open like a time-lapse film of a huge flower blooming. Yummy.

Here’s another one, by a composer I hadn’t heard of before, that will just sort of rip your heart out, if the Christmas story means anything to you. Even if doesn’t. It feels like comfort for those who feel broken, or out of place, lost or lonely – listen for “love” at about 1:40. Another good one at about 2:43 and the end is gorgeous, so I hope you listen to the whole thing – it has such a beautiful arc to it:

Another by Will Todd – the punch I get from this is on the word “all” at about 1:28:

Because I’m talking about moments in choral music that just slay me, blow me away, blast my heart open, here’s one from the Brahms Requiem, 6th movement, “Tod, wo ist dein Stachel? Hölle, wo ist dein Sieg?” which means, “Death, where is thy sting? Hell, (or grave) where is thy victory?” Von Karajan takes it much more slowly than I’ve ever heard before, but that gives you a chance to really hear the moment I’m talking about. I tried to excerpt it but it didn’t work, so the section I’m talking about starts at about 5:55 with text that means “death is swallowed up in victory” and the big moment actually comes on the word “wo” at about 7:00:

Again, it is worth listening to the whole thing.

At the time I learned this piece, when I was a college kid, it was the sheer beauty of the music that made me come undone, and I never forgot it.

Now, of course, this section holds special meaning for me. There is something so urgently hopeful about this – the music is so, almost vehement – you can feel Brahms desperately trying to convince himself of the text – trying to hang on to hope in the depth of the sorrow of death and loss that gave birth to the whole piece. Tears every time.

We have the second and final performance of our Christmas concert tonight, so I’m off for some more salt-water gargle and tea with honey, just so I can sing my part on “joy,” “always” and of course,

Love.

Sending love and hope that you find your way to joy that will be with you always,

I remain,

Your tea-swilling, salt-water gargling soprano,

Ridiculouswoman

My Side of the Bed

A bed for one person doesn’t need two sides.

Our little family had symmetry, like the lamp and candles – we were balanced, with me in the middle, constantly pulled in two directions by the competing needs of the two great lights of my life – my husband and our daughter.

Now we are two.

There isn’t really a “middle” with just two.

I feel myself shifting out of that middle-that-is-no-more, drifting over to where he isn’t. As two, we measure the distance between one another, trying to stay close enough, but not so close as to crowd out our separate experiences of grief, and of learning how to carry that grief forward into whatever our lives will be.

Beside each other, with empty space between.

Sophie the cat does her best to fill that space, but still. She thinks she’s a person, and she thinks she’s the most important person here. But she’s a cat.

A cat who still meows loudly when she crosses the rug that was under his hospital bed.

Since late July, we’ve been sitting together in this house, defining our days by how we will spend our time together, what time I’ll drive her to work and what time I’ll pick her up, and what we will eat for dinner at our table for two. But after the holidays, our lives will change. I will have to get a job again, and she will have to re-learn the busses to and from work, the checklists (phone? keys? bus fare?) and maybe get used to a new companion/caregiver.

And get used to a lot more time without me beside her.

That scares her. Of course it does.

I have my annual “body and soul” cold, that turns my first soprano into a tenor, but let’s me sing “Body and Soul” in the right key, way down low – unfortunately, it’s the high notes I need right now. The cold ran its usual course, into my aching joints and down my throat, landing in an annoying, frustrating cough-with-throat-tickle, just as the choral concert is coming – the concert I really want to sing, because the music is so beautiful.

Tea, steam.

It’s helping.

But I still cough, and she says, nervously, “you alright, Mom? Getting back to 100%?”

“I’m fine, sweetheart. Getting better each day.”

Am I?

I bought new mattresses for us both. Bye-bye saggy old mattress with the cozy me-shaped trough in it.

The trough on “my” side of the bed.

Because over all the years we slept separately, I still stayed on “my” side of the bed. Occasionally he’d climb in beside me to spoon, to warm up on a cold winter night.

But not often.

When she was a toddler, as most toddlers do, she would sometimes climb in between us. Then back to her own beddiehouse.

I started on “my” side with the new mattress.

But without really noticing, I’ve drifted – into the middle.

It feels like an acknowledgment that, even though it was pretty much just me anyway all those years, it now definitely will be just me – in the middle of the bed.

A bed for one person doesn’t need two sides.

And she, an adult now, will be in her room down the (short) hall at the other side of our small house. What had been his room on the opposite side of her wall is now her “computer lounge.” He’s not in there to tap on the wall and laugh with her, goofing around like kids until they fell asleep, on either side of that wall.

She put his stocking up on the middle hook in front of the fireplace, but I put it away.  A little one that says “meow” on it, for Sophie the cat, hangs there in the middle now.

I explained that Dad doesn’t need a stocking in heaven, and that I don’t think it is good for us to pretend that he ever could be here with us again. But remember, …

“Dad’s love never ends.”

“That’s rights, sweets. We carry that love with us always, and Dad wants us to move forward and to have the best lives we can, knowing that his love is with us.”

“Dad is free from pain, free from anger, and he wants me to have a happy life.”

“That’s right, sweetheart.”

These conversations often happen during our evening “music time,” when we listen to one Christmas CD she has selected and then turn it off and sit, with the lights off, except for the Christmas tree.

Sitting quietly together in the dim glow of the tree, she in the “Grandpa” chair and me in the “Grandma” rocker, (because they were their chairs), until she needs to say it again.

“When people go to heaven, they can’t come back. Dad’s love never ends. He wants me to have a happy, independent, adult life.”

Yes sweetheart, we’re working on it.

From opposite ends of the hall.

In the middle of our beds.

At our table for two.

Wishing you balance, light and peace,

I remain,

Your faithful, trying-not-to-let-the-space-between-feel-so-empty-or-the-lights-feel-so-dim,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Three Years Tree

Rule of three tries…

Approach the task with good humor and humility. Presume things will go wrong. Resolve to be patient about it. Presume, but don’t believe, because you got this. Third time’s a charm, Right?

Third time without him, that is.

Set specific time to depart for the local big box hardware store where we always buy the tree. Wear Santa hats.

Strap tree to top of car, rather than stuffing it in the car to provide a year’s worth of needles to vacuum from various crevices for the year.

Get home without tree falling off top of car. Leave tree in cold garage for lunch break.

And now….

Tree stand.

Complimenting yourself for being clever enough to leave the stand on the work shelf in the garage since last year, rather than high and unreachable in the rafters where Mike used to put it, pick up stand.

Discover that unspecified rodent has purloined substantial amounts of insulation (must be from the bathroom in the breezeway that connects to the garage – the one that is now so cold) to construct cozy nest in the tree stand base. Eww.

Don gloves. Remove insulation. Wipe with disinfecting wipes.

Place protective plastic on floor in front of bay window (that Mike meticulously re-puttied when he was so sick, taking breaks to sit down, over three days), for inevitable spillage of water when attempting to nourish tree.

Attach base that looks oddly like a giant cervical cap (ewww) to fresh-cut base of trunk. Place in larger base, that has a foot pedal that is supposed to allow you to waggle the tree around until it is straight, upright and stable, and then lock it there.

Angelic daughter holds tree strait. Perfect! Lock.

Let go.

Tree immediately lists sideways.

Try again.

Tree lists again.

Remove tree with giant cervical cap from larger base.  Notice puddles, resulting from brilliant inspiration to put water in the stand before you put the tree in, on the plastic intended to protect wood floor, running inexorably toward said wood. Dash to kitchen for paper towels.

Angelic daughter decamps to watch TV when Mom’s swearin….erm, expressions of frustration, become a bit overwhelming.

Notice that in your efforts to place and lock tree, plastic has skidded on the floor, shifting tree way off center in front of bay window.

Sigh.

Try again.

Breathe. Employ observation, reason and calculation. Realize giant cervical cap thing needs to be snugger on trunk, and needs to sit lower in base.

Use garden loppers to remove low branches interfering with giant thorn-looking thingees that have to be screwed in tight to tree trunk.

Screw in giant thorn looking thingees.

Sit back in satisfaction. Nice and tight.

Time to try again.

Third time’s a charm, right?

Lift tree with giant cervical cap thing into larger base, and feel the satisfying click as it settles in to the correct spot. Feels stable. Step back to look.

Looks straight.

Praying (because God really cares about whether my Christmas tree is straight and stable, right?), shove foot pedal intended to allow waggling-around into lock position, and stomp down.

Holy crap. Maybe God does care that it is straight!

(No, dumbass, God cares that you get this done so you can calm down and stop swearin…expressing frustration, and move on to the decorating part which allows you to involve angelic daughter, retrieved from her retreat to the TV).

Praying more (hey, it worked), every-so-gently drag plastic back to center tree in front of window.

It worked again.

Lights!

Having been brilliant enough to buy two extra sets of lights last year, in anticipation of the future inevitable malfunction of lights that worked perfectly before, begin stringing lights – smugly, because you checked, to be sure the star that will go on the top gets the female end it needs to plug into.

Carefully distribute two strings of 300 lights in tiers around tree. Pick up third and final string.

Realize that final string will have a female end where it needs to plug into the wall.

Swea…Sigh. Breathe.

I put 600 lights on the tree, backwards. Used the female end that also has a male end at the top instead of the one with just the female end.

Unwrap lights. Rewrap lights. Decide 600 is enough. Last year’s tree, which had 900, was bigger.

Plug in.

Looks good!

Angelic daughter, creeping back in from TV room, proceeds with garlands and chains, and we (ok, I) only break four ornaments in the process of getting them out of their nests in the Christmas boxes and up on the tree.

After placing all her own handmade ornaments and garlands from school years, especially anything that has a picture of her on it, and the one with her Dad’s name on it, daughter decamps to take another break and watch more TV.

Which leaves me to hang the significant ornaments.

Listening to Vince Gill, “Breath of Heaven.” Hold me together.

The one with the little mouse at the front door, welcoming us to our new house nearly 20 years ago. House had LOTS of mice, we discovered.

Sniff.

The one of the little snowman with a shovel, that symbolized that year that Mike shoveled every two hours, seemingly for weeks on end. Big snow that year.

Tears.

I didn’t expect the one that really got me, though – a little bear dressed as Santa.

“Bear” was my pet name for Mike.

More tears.

“Can we have our quiet time now?

Breathe. Dry up.

Of course, sweetheart.

Regard the tree.

Oops, forgot the star.

Managing not to break anything (third time, anyway), clip top of tree with garden loppers. Pop star on top, held by treetop twig through the arms of the star.

Plug in.

Ta-da!

I really should have put that third string of lights on.  The lowest branches have none.

Abandon perfectionist tendencies.  Decide this is good enough.

Because, however imperfect, to me, there really isn’t anything as lovely, peaceful, and comforting as a Christmas tree.

Angelic daughter is tired. Sit with her upstairs until she falls deep asleep.  Return downstairs for more “tree regarding” time.

Play Christmas choral music, volume very low, by some Englishy choir, recorded in an echoey-Englishy-medeival stone cathedral.

Lo, how a rose ere blooming.

Smile.

Wishing you a beautiful tree, or Menorah, or whatever brings you peace and light this time of year, and hoping to get over this cough in time to sing Englishy carols in a big stone church, I remain,

Your tree-regarding, Santa-hat wearing, soon-to-be-cookie-baking,

Ridiculouswoman

Mrs. McWhiny’s Pity Parlor is Closing

Pity party is over – get your gratitude gear on.

So, about that last post. Aren’t we quite the little drama queen, with our little pity party?

Sorry about that.

I really was feeling that way and was writing from the heart, but I can feel my New England ancestresses (one of whom lived as a widowed schoolmarm for over 45 years) are pissed off at me from the next world. They want me to

So, OK, enough Mrs. McWhiny – it’s time to put the big girl pants back on (wait a sec, I am big girl, so I kind of wear them all the time, but whatever), pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get your big ass into gratitude gear.

You’ve probably seen this one, but it bears repeating:

So, yes, my daughter and I (that’s the first thing I should be grateful for — I am not, in fact, alone – I live with an angel; a beautiful, resilient, patient, kind, caring, forgiving angel) have been through some big stuff, but:

  • we’re alive
  • today, we have a roof over our heads
  • today, we have food
  • today, the power works and the faucets produce clean water, hot when needed
  • I have a reliable car that will be paid off by next October
  • I have two brothers, one of whom lives close enough to come and help out
  • that closer brother weatherstripped doors today, so we’re less freezing in here
  • handy closer brother also tested the back-up sump pump he installed, and it works
  • this year’s mother-daughter Christmas downtown excursion is planned and booked
  • I lost a pound by not eating dinner last night – intermittent fasting works for me
  • I had an opportunity to do a small, unnoticed but kind thing today, and I did
  • I have gotten this far through the day without accidentally hurting myself

I am grateful for these things. I am grateful for the wise, kind WordPress friends who have shared their wisdom and kindness with me – you guys rock. I love your blogs. You know who you are (and anyone who reads this should too, because there’s a list of blogs I follow over there in the sidebar – or at the bottom if you scroll down, I think).

I am grateful for small accomplishments and meeting modest daily goals.

I’m grateful for weird dreams that amuse and puzzle me.

I’m grateful that through online shopping I figured out cheap, functional, stick-on, OK looking LED vanity lights for my dressing table, so I didn’t have to hire an electrician to tear up the wall.

I’m grateful for my old, fat, warm, soft cat Sophie, even though she ignores her claw-sharpening carpet remnant and continues to destroy the good rugs, and sits on my face when I’m not ready to get out of bed yet to feed her.

I’m grateful for the really good, really beautiful sacred music my choir director selected for the Christmas concert, and the challenge of learning it and the joy of singing it with a really good choir. You may take that as a shameless plug for our concert, which is a bonus add-on to my gratitude about it, because I really am grateful.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be grateful, and, because I’m breathing, the chance to be happy, one moment at a time. I hope I can maintain the happiness long enough to send a little love out into the word.

They say what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow.

In the bleak midwinter – what can I give?

….give my heart.

Trying to send love in little bits and pieces, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, sucking-it-up-and-snapping-out-of-it,

Ridiculouswoman

The Sideways Hourglass

How’d my hourglass fall over?

Back when Mike would drive me to the train station for my commute to my high-stress job, we’d sometimes arrive early enough to see the train before mine go by – it was an express, and our daughter loved the thrill of watching it blast through the station (from the safety of the car, of course.)

We came to call these express trains “whoosh” trains, because they’d “whoosh” by.

Every once in a while, she still asks to drive over to the station, to see a whoosh train.

Whoosh trains define my relationship to time, now – time that is whooshing by like a train I’m not on.

I feel like I should be “better” by now. It’s been over two years and we’re coming up on our third Christmas season without Mike. I finished my book and I’m working up the courage to start sending out my query letters about it. I’ve painted rooms, given away almost all his clothes, including, finally, the barn coat and boots. I’m still working on figuring out what to do with his collection of war games, and the telescope and the tandem are still in the garage. But still.

I’ve had days when I felt happy. Days when I didn’t think about Mike, and then felt guilty about it. I’m surprised by this new wave of grief that has hit me, now, at the start of the season of joy.

The train whooshes by. I’m supposed to be trying to live with love and laughter, and right now, I suck at it. I’m doing OK with the love part, I guess, except it feels like it is coming from a still, quiet place that just sits there – it isn’t an active kind of love. It’s an, “OK, get up, one foot in front of the other, let’s try to be a decent person today” kind of love, and I still fail at it regularly.

I feel an odd sort of responsibility to “make progress,” and I feel like I haven’t made any. I keep getting older and I’m every bit as alone. I keep losing and regaining the same three pounds.

The panicky anxiety is back. Mike could fix that. One hug from him and I was OK. I felt safe.

I don’t feel safe. I feel exposed. Unlocked. Threatened and afraid.

I sure as hell don’t feel like I’m “making progress.”

I feel like someone knocked the my hourglass over sideways.

Everyone else’s hourglass is efficiently sifting its sand, and when it is just about done, they’ll just “strike the bell and turn the glass” and start a new day.

I feel stuck in a place where time passes, I get older, but things don’t get better. Just dustier, greyer, yellowed. Old. Dried up.

chess and hourglass still life

I kept one of his many chessboards, the one he won as an elementary school champion. I still have his hats, though the smell of him is fading from them. I have too many dried up roses around the house. Feng shui, or something like it, says not to keep those, and to throw away the chipped dishes and cracked glassware. Working on it.

I haven’t been reading anything other than the deluge of catalogs that come this time of year, which I find oppressive. Maybe this year I’ll just do one of those, “Anne has made a donation in your name to…(insert laudable charitable organization doing the good in the world that I don’t seem to have the will or gumption or energy or courage to do.)

From darkness riseth light, right? Right?

Each year my church has a “longest night” service for people like me – people who need comfort because they feel left out of the joy.

That’s the message, though, isn’t it? He came in our darkest hour – never mind that we appropriated a pagan midwinter festival designed to address fears that the dark of winter would last forever and light would not come again. He came to bring hope to the hopeless and light to the darkness.

And to unburden us of our sins.

I feel like failing to be happy is a sin. I feel like I shouldn’t have to work so hard to feel grateful for the life I have and I don’t understand why I keep thinking about the life I never had instead of the one I do have, now. I don’t understand why I keep making the same mistakes, over and over again.

I’ve been slipping in my observation of the Middle Aged Woman rules. I’m in danger of giving up, drying up, sinking into a cronehood made up of joint pain and thinning hair and sagging spirit…well, let’s be honest here, sagging everything.

I have to go wash my hair, put on some lipstick, and take my daughter to see the holiday model train display. I’ll try to be quiet, and let her just enjoy it.

And maybe when they start sprinkling the fake snow from the ceiling, I’ll look out the window at the specks of real snow that is falling, and remember that spring will come.

From darkness riseth light.

In the bleak midwinter.

Time to buy a tree, and smell the piney-ness of it, and find the joy, even if it is small, and deeply buried.

Until then I remain,

Your humble, flawed, struggling, hanging on to hope by a thread,

Ridiculouswoman

Naughty and Nice

Before we go all holly jolly, a pre-holiday dive into the Snark Tank…

Or, nice and naughty, if I ever meet the right guy (Ha! in my dreams!)

Anyway,  since this is the time of year we draw the naughty/nice line, I think it is time to toss a few more things into the Snark Tank (naughty!), just to get them out of my system so I can flip the switch on love and joy. I’ve got two new topics to cover over there, and welcome your contributions –  “I Guess the Rules Just Don’t Apply to You,” and “Shit Doctors Say.”

I’ll keep the goodness and light over here in the “nice” part of my blog.

So if you’re not quite ready to go all holly jolly, take a dive over there.

I’ll be back over here with something nice.

As soon as I think of it.

Ho, Ho, Ho and all that,

Ridiculouswoman

Gowf

How I feel about golf, in one photo…

As I was leaving total body fitness class a few days ago, I was greeted with the above pictured troop of frozen golf carts.

(Or “gowf carts,” as those who play this spectacularly dull sport usually say it – especially the TV commentators. Mike used to watch “gowf” on TV – which, for me, is somewhere between watching paint dry and sticking knitting needles in my eyes. Suffice it to say, I was always able to find myself something else to do until the “gowf” was over, which often was somewhere between six and ten hours in).

So the sight of frozen “gowf” carts?

Oh, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, HA!

Just sayin’

Preferring brisk walks not involving attempts “to place a small ball in a smaller hole with weapons ill-designed for that purpose,” (Churchill),

I remain,

Your loyal, non-conforming because non-gowfer, but hoping the fitness class can get me skiing again someday,

Ridiculouswoman